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Adoption Disruption - The Elephant in the Room
My husband and I took many steps to prepare our sons in advance for when we would add to our family through adoption. However, we still experienced many unknowns and surprises that we had not anticipated. We had been talking about international adoption for the past couple of years. Our kids knew what adoption means and we explained that the transition wouldn’t be easy. But, they still didn’t fully understand the reality of how our lives would change when our daughter finally joined our family.
Prospective adoptive parents are required to take hours of education in order to help prepare them for their adoption. Children who are already in the home also need education for the addition of a sibling and it is the parents’ job to educate their children on what to expect. Often times children are shocked when their sibling joins their family and their expectations aren’t met. Maybe their new sibling isn’t as fun as they had thought or, perhaps, she requires more attention from mom and dad. Children already in the family may not anticipate losing the time and attention that they previously received from their parents. Children need frequent reminders of likely scenarios, so they won’t be blindsided. Once we received more information about our daughter, one of our children shared that he was scared and that he didn’t like change and wanted it to be “like normal”. I’m glad that my son felt comfortable sharing this with me and that we were able to talk through it. He gets along well with his sister and all of those initial emotions about adding to our family have gone away. Change is hard! Especially for children!
We had hoped that we could prepare them for what to expect without setting their expectations too high or too low. We tried to give our kids examples in the beginning like:
We also had many open conversations talking about their new sibling like, “I wonder if your sister will like macaroni and cheese?” or “Do you think she’s ever eaten pizza?” “Typical meals she may have eaten in her birth country might be beans, rice, meats, vegetables, and fruits.” We then tried to incorporate these foods from her birth country into our menu ahead of time so that we could share a part of her culture.
We also read books like “A Mother for Choco,” “The Best Family in the World,” “It’s Ok to be Different,” and watched shows like Dinosaur Train, and movies like Peabody and Sherman, Despicable Me and The Boxtrolls. We talked about how adoption was portrayed in the story and how the characters may have felt about adoption. Depending on the age of your children currently in the home you can use puppets, dolls, or other toys to pretend play what it might be like to have a new sibling and different scenarios that might be different or new.
Before our daughter joined our family, we tried to make big changes in advance so it wouldn’t seem like she was the reason for the change, which could have caused resentment. Adding a child through adoption is stressful enough, so try to limit the number of changes. If your children will need to share a room or change rooms to make room for an extra child, try to make those changes as far in advance as possible. We tried to make changing rooms special by decorating and adding special touches to make it their own. Our boys even helped to organize and decorate their sister’s room and pick out toys that they thought she would like.
It is important to let your children know that after their new sibling joins their family, the whole family will likely stay close to home for a while to work on attachment and bonding as a family. Involve your children in brainstorming some ideas of fun things to do as a family close to home. It might even be a good time to add a soccer goal, trampoline, swing set or pool to your backyard. Our family loves to play games; board games, card games, sports games and many other games. During our first couple of months as a family of five, we spent many hours playing games together and bonding as a family. Children who come from hard places, who have lived in an institution, may be unfamiliar with imaginative play and how to play with toys. This is a great way for siblings to help teach them how to play by setting a good example. Our goal was to have fun, laugh and enjoy each other while having opportunities to work on social skills and practice playing nice and fair. Both of my boys enjoyed sharing their favorite games and showing their new sister how the game is played. Their sister was also able to share some of her favorite games with them! She was especially good at matching and couldn’t be beaten!
Siblings also need to know how to answer tough questions that they may be asked like, “Is she your real sister?” This is especially true in international adoption or if you are adopting transracially. Transracial families are conspicuous and often receive more attention when out in public. Your children will need guidance and practice to answer some of these difficult questions. One resource that helped us talk with our children about the tough questions was the Wise Up! Powerbook from the Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.). As early as the first week home, a child at the playground told my son that his sister couldn’t be his sister because she didn’t look like him. Fortunately, my son was gracious and responded by simply stating that yes she was his sister, end of story. I hope that my children have the tools they need to answer the difficult questions. As they grow older we will continue to add to their toolbox of how to talk about adoption.
Adding a child through adoption can be stressful, but it can be a wonderful experience and benefit the whole family. Siblings can be friends and supporters for each other and experience life together, but they can also be instigators and create challenges and rivalry. Fortunately in adoption, and in parenting, in general, there is a learning curve and you don’t have to have all of the answers ahead of time. As time goes on you will gain experience and knowledge to help you in your adoption journey. It is important to remember that you are not alone and connect with other adoptive families.
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